For Canberrans, the first of September means one thing.
No, not just that it’s swooping season. It’s the start of the city’s annual mowing program which will run until March 2023.
This year, for the first time, the government will trial a new electric mower as part of its bigger and better fleet – improvements it said were necessary in the face of what’s expected to be another wet, rainy season with La Niña on the way for the third consecutive summer.
During the 2020-21 financial year, the ACT Government increased its mowing of public lands by 43 per cent on normal levels, Transport Canberra and City Services’ most recent annual report showed. This followed 2020’s La Niña.
Suburbs and areas of open space are mowed every four weeks and arterial road areas are mowed every five weeks.
But Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said these concerns are exactly why the government is trying something new this season.
“A changing climate means we need to adapt, and that’s why we’re trialling more responsive ways of delivering city services,” he said.
The latest Territory Budget funded a $1.2 million rapid response team comprising 10 new staff across three teams.
It’s expected that this team will be able to identify areas needing urgent attention through Fix My Street reports, visual inspections, calls to Access Canberra, and data inputs from the regular mowing program.
This will, in turn, limit the need to divert resources from scheduled activities and ensure mowing hotspots are responded to faster.
An additional $1.2 million had to be invested for surge mowing last year and Mr Steel said the government had also funded 12 replacement mowers and a new electric mower.
The new mowers take the Territory’s total fleet to 81. Each of those can mow 68 hectares every four weeks.
Canberrans can report an area that requires maintenance by the rapid response mowing team by completing an online form via Fix My Street. Those sites will then be inspected to determine whether they fall within the programming of regular crews or the response team.
In April, Mr Steel confirmed it took an average of 52.2 days for matters reported via the ACT Government’s Fix My Street portal last year to be resolved.
In calendar year 2021, long grass topped the list of Canberrans’ Fix My Street concerns – even ahead of potholes.
The Opposition has seized on the mowing issue to argue the government is no longer focused on the suburbs or the things that matter most to Canberrans.
Canberra Liberals MLA Jeremy Hanson said late last year Canberrans are frustrated with a government that’s “lost touch with the ordinary Canberran” and simply “got its priorities wrong”.
They want more resourcing, surge funding and a better long-term strategy to get the mowing done.
But the government’s response to that has been consistent: it cannot control the rain and it is providing surge funding.
The mowing map and more information on the mowing program can be found on the City Services website. That map will be live from Monday.